A Romp Under the Sun
Sept. 3, 2005
IOWA CITY-- After a definitive, 28-point first quarter that included the fourth-longest touchdown punt return in school history, Iowa walked away from Kinnick Stadium Saturday with the most decisive victory of the Kirk Ferentz era.
The Hawkeyes (No. 10 ESPN/USA Today; No. 11 AP) blanked Ball State, 56-0, in the 2005 season opener in front of a sellout crowd of 70,585, the largest in the legendary stadium's 76-year history. The last time Iowa managed to score more than 50 points came in 2003 against Buffalo, while Ferentz' largest margin of victory had been 52 points against Northwestern in 2002.
"I think the preparation was there," Ferentz said. "(The players') attitude seemed to be good, but you never know where the team's at until you get out there. Again, I thought we looked fairly sharp, and it looked like we were hustling on special teams, which is a good indicator."
Iowa established the strength of its run game from the beginning. After last season when the Hawkeyes finished 116 out of 117 among Division I-A football teams for rushing yardage, the team's rebound on the ground was a matter of doubt.
Iowa scored on six of its first seven drives, largely on the feet on the same running backs that missed last season due to anterior cruciate ligament injuries.
The Hawkeyes showed off their improved running game early in the contest, with nine carries on the first drive including a 20-yarder by Albert Young, one of the several running backs to have missed most of last season with ACL repairs.
Marcus Schnoor, who injured his ACL in last year's season-opener against Kent State after six plays, got the first touchdown of the new season with a 1-yard run with 10:59 on the clock in the first.
On the next drive, Young broke through for a 31-yard run on a 2-and-5 play from the Ball State 34, setting up a 2-yard touchdown run at 7:09 for the Hawkeyes to go up 14-0.
"We had a couple of good drives right off the start, and I don't know if we could have predicted it mainly because what I see in practice we've done some things well at times but we haven't been consistent at all," Ferentz said. "It's hard to explain that. I think we have the parts, but it's a matter of getting everything together and establishing a little bit of a rhythm."
Schnoor said the running backs wanted to start early.
"It's always important to establish the running game, and when you're running the ball successfully it's hard to give that up," the senior said. "Something that we wanted to do is come out and run the ball effectively, and I think we did that today."
Quarterback Drew Tate said his team can finally say they have confidence in their backs.
"That was big coming into the season," he said. "We have to get confidence with our backs and confidence in our linemen. We want to be a physical football team up front, and I thought we did a good job of that today."
Sam Brownlee, who rose up the ranks to starting running back last season, grabbed his first two touchdowns of his career on an 11-yarder and a 1-yarder in the second quarter.
After the running backs had reasserted themselves as a unit, cornerback Jovon Johnson spoke up for the defense by returning a 29-yard quick punt by Cardinal quarterback Joey Lynch 90 yards for the Hawkeyes third touchdown in the first quarter.
The punt was the fourth-longest in school history and the longest since Tim Dwight made a 92-yarder against Indiana in 1997. The longest, a 95-yard effort by Bill Happel against Minnesota, happened in the 1985 season. The Big Ten Championship-winning squad from 1985, including Happel, was in the stands Saturday celebrating its 20-year reunion.
"It was kind of like high school when I used to return punts," Johnson said. "A lot of people said I had good vision. After I made the cut back, I saw Marcus Paschal directing traffic. I knew once I had it set up that I was going to get past (the Ball State defender) and make it into the end zone."
Ferentz said Johnson, who isn't known for his punt returns, may ask for more time on that special team.
"Jovon may be politicking," the coach said. "He may be lobbying for that position. We have total confidence, and he makes great decisions out there. He has a knack for making plays."
Ball State coach Brady Hoke called Johnson's return, and the 21-0 Hawkeye advantage that it brought, the turning point in the game.
"We had poor coverage, and they took advantage of it," he said. "It was downhill from there."
Iowa recovered a Ball State fumble with little more than two minutes remaining in the first stanza, and quarterback Drew Tate converted a 7-yard pass to Clinton Solomon to go up 28-0 after the first quarter.
Tate said that starting so quickly wasn't the original plan.
"The mindset going in was to stick to our game plan and execute," he said. "The points we scored - that's what we want to do every week."
Linebacker Abdul Hodge, one of three defensive players to get a sack on Saturday, said everything went Iowa's way.
"Our concept behind the game was to start fast and finish strong," he said. "When we got up 21 points in the first quarter, it showed that we were ready to play.
"I think the most important thing was that we won the game, and the guys left the field injury-free," he added.
The Hawkeye defense limited the Cardinals to 13 yards rushing at halftime and just 51 for the game. Ball State had 144 yards of total offense, compared to 441 out of the Hawkeyes, who had 241 of those from their ground game.
True freshman Shonn Greene led the Hawkeyes with 18 carries for 121 yards, becoming the first true freshman in 18 years to achieve that mark. Greene also got Iowa's only score in the second half on a 6-yard run in the fourth.
And true freshman Tony Moeaki, a tight end, led the receiving corps with three catches for 28 yards. Tate was 9 of 10 for 99 yards and two touchdowns on the day, while Jason Manson went 9 of 9 for 92 yards as backup quarterback.
Sophomore receiver Herb Grigsby nabbed a 33-yard touchdown catch to start the second quarter and his Hawkeye career. His reception was the longest on the day.
"I don't have an awful lot to complain about," Ferentz said of his season opener. "That being said, I'm sure we'll have plenty to work on and correct (on Sunday), but that's part of the deal."
NOTES: Former running back Damian Sims, a sophomore, will be on the depth chart at cornerback, according to Ferentz, to build up that position. Adam Shada, a sophomore right corner, was one of seven players to earn their first start today, and the coach wanted to make sure there are more players behind him and Johnson.
"The agreement we have with him is that he's more than welcome to come back in January (as running back)," Ferentz said. "With our cornerback situation, we wanted to see if we could shore that up a little bit and see if we could add depth. His attitude has been great, and we're still going to use him as a returner."
... Iowa's defensive line got its first test on Saturday, but the coach isn't ready to say that very young unit is fully prepared for some of the competition it's likely to face.
"It's tough to judge it totally," he said, "but I thought they were playing with good effort. It's really tough to make a total assessment, but it was a positive start."
... The Hawkeyes got through their first matchup relatively injury free, a stark contrast to last season at this time. There are, however, a few players who will have some work ahead of them.
... Iowa's punter situation is not likely to get any more solid, according to the coach. Both candidates, John Gallery and Andy Fenstermaker, had 45- and 47-yard kicks respectively, in the fourth quarter.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com